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DRAM talks inspiration, positivity and Stevie Wonder

27 October 2017 | 8:39 am | Sonny Thomas

Before he heads to Australia, we caught up with DRAM to chat collaborations, positivity, where he's from and what's still to come.

DRAM aka Shelley Marshaun Massenburg-Smith is an artist that needs little introduction. Born in Germany and raised in Hampton Virginia, his 2015 hit 'Cha Cha' caught the attention of many, including Rick Rubin and Beyonce.

In 2016 he proved himself as much more than a one hit wonder dropping 'Broccoli' featuring fellow trendsetter, Lil Yachty. It blew up, hitting #5 on the US Billboard chart and went five times platinum. His debut album, Big Baby DRAM, followed with similar acclaim, and was nominated for this year's Grammy awards. 

DRAM was a pioneer in developing a lighter, more relatable sound that developed out of trap music. It’s an influence that has resonated throughout hip hop and can be heard in so much of today's hip hop sound.

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Ahead of his upcoming Falls Festival appearance and string of Australian head line shows, we caught up for a chat.

Tell us about "Does Real Ass Music" (DRAM), what does that mean to you?  

Man, it’s just music that is based upon your life, your everything, you know?

Recently, we have seen a lot of what Snoop Dogg describes as ‘Horror Rap’, but it seems like you and Lil Yachty have really kicked that trend. In a world with so much negativity is it a conscious decision as an artist to engage with positivity?  

Not really, basically what I do in my music, I don’t base it off anyone or anything. I couldn’t care less, I just wanna be making music that represents me. You know, when I step into a room, I like to be liked because we like being likeable. You go around and you give vibes and good vibes come back. I’m an everyday guy just like the next man. It’s not really an agenda, I’m just riding that wave, you know, just where I’m coming from in my life.

I know you came up in Hampton, Virginia, which in Australia isn’t a place we hear much about. What’s the hip hop scene like there?

No scene to be honest, we were just kids. We were inspired greatly by many of the people we saw all around us from there though. People doing things in a unique and one of a kind way. You know people like Timbaland or like Lex Luger who really redefined how trap music even sounds. Those types of things really inspire one to make it big. It just makes you realise, the spot is not big, for real. The few people from here that made it did so much. I knew if I’m going to get out of here, I’m going to take to have to take it to the next level.

And where are you based now?

I just settled in a spot in Los Angeles, but before that I was on the road living from hotel to hotel, AirBnB for like a whole year. It’s pretty much where I’ve been at. I’ve still been going back [to Hampton] for thanksgiving though to see my family. But yeah I was there for a very long time man. 

The past few years must have been pretty crazy for you, is it challenging adapting to that sort of lifestyle?

Not really because I’m loving the the steadiness and controllability of the ride. It’s not something that just went boom overnight because it’s a meme or something. It feels nice though, you know, people come say hi. I think it’s a gradual kind of thing so I think I'm able to adapt to it and get it right. 

You’ve already linked up with some of the contemporary greats like A$AP Rocky, Lil Yachty and the Gorillaz, the list goes on, but do you do you have a dream collaboration?

Yeah, I have a dream collaboration, I want to work Stevie Wonder.

You’ve also had a chance to work with some of real veterans of the industry like Erykah Badu and Rick Rubin, what did you take out of that?

Rick Rubin has been such a mentor for me, he really taught me so much about the way I look at music you know? Also it's been crazy to be able to work with Neil Young and George Clinton, I actually had a couple of sessions with Kanye West before.

So you’ll be out in January for Falls Festival and your own headline shows, are you excited to be kicking of the year in Australia?

Oh man, I’m more than excited, the stories that you hear from people that have been there, it almost sounds like Paradise. I'm just waiting for my turn.

I know last time Post Malone came out to Australia he was introduced to the Australian tradition of a ‘Shoey’ (sculling a beer out of an old shoe) Is there anything you’re looking forward to doing while you’re here?   

[laughing] I don’t know about that man, I just wanna eat Shrimp on a barbie   

You dropped your debut album BIG BABY DRAM last  year, and a couple singles this year, what can we look forward to next?  

Big Baby Dram! Just stay tuned man there’s a lot more coming. I promise. 

Catch DRAM at the following dates:

December 30 - Falls Festival, Lorne VIC

December 31 - Falls Festival, Marion Bay TAS

January 1 - Field Day, Sydney NSW

January 2 - Falls Festival, Byron Bay NSW

January 5 - 170 Russell, Melbourne VIC

January 6 - Falls Festival, Fremantle WA

January 10 - Powerstation, Auckland NZ

Words by Sonny Thomas